What do you do when you’re twenty years old and already living in 4,000 square feet of prime New York real estate that you paid for yourself? If you’re actress Claire Danes, you skedaddle to a college dorm—Yale, no less—where between hitting the books and starring in movies, you only have weekends to crash in New York
But what a place to unravel. “It’s strange to come home on weekends from my little two-by-two dorm that I share with five roommates,” says Danes. “It was frustrating to finally have the loft completed, then have to return to sharing a bathroom with eighteen people. Truth fully, I haven’t spent much time here. It takes a while to spread your pheromones around and make a place yours.”
Or a place for your friends. “I bully people all the time into agreeing they’ll stay with me for a while. I really love having guests. It’s important to me to share the space.” As she does with her boyfriend, Australian rocker Ben Lee, whose maze of keyboards and guitars take up one end of the living area.
“The loft walks a fine line between whimsy and sophistication,” says the architect, Joan Krevlin, a partner in the New York firm of BKS/K Architects. “Claire’s sensibility is quite elegant. She’s got a good eye,and though there’s a sense of playfulness, it’s never funky. Despite having her own house, she lives like a girl her age. The apartment reflects and welcomes that.”
It also reflects the experience of a very particular New York childhood. “Claire was raised in a SoHo loft, and that’s part of how she relates to Manhattan. There’s a different sensibility that comes with growing up in a downtown loft versus a Park Avenue flat or a rambling West Side apartment. And Claire’s definitely a downtown kid.”
She is also a big-time movie star. Danes started work at fourteen in the acclaimed seriesMy So-Called Life and has filled her short life with movie credits that include Little Women (1994), How to Make an American Quilt (1995) and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1996). “I’m such a nomad. It’s nice to know psychologically I now have a home base.”
And to create that, she kept it almost in the family. “Joan renovated my parents’ house when I was little,” says Danes. “She worked on projects with my dad, who’s a contractor. Looking back on it, I realize how ridiculously ambitious I was to buy a place with no floors, no windows—to tailor-make a home for my self. Two years down the line I realized how demanding that is, but I just took it for granted that it would be feasible.”
And thanks to Krevlin, it was. “Joan was a great listener. I didn’t have a concrete sense of what I wanted, but my mantra was, ‘No potpourri.’ I wanted something young and female and also clean and geometric.”
Not to mention fun. On first glance the actress’s home looks spare and modem, but on closer inspection Danes’s digs— with sliding walls, rolling tables, whimsical art—turn out to be something of a giant, if sophisticated, playground, complete with a wooden swing suspended from the ceiling in an area large enough to qualify as a studio apartment for most urban dwellers. “There was a swing in Claire’s parents’ loft, so it’s a little piece of her childhood,” Krevlin points out. “You sit and have conversations while swinging back and forth.”
“My mom ran a toddler school in our loft,” says Danes. “We had a central room that was dedicated to the nursery. It was like a transformer home—preschool by day, home by night. I realized how malleable a loft could be, and that was very appealing.” Adds Krevlin, “As a result, Claire came to our project with the understanding that spaces take on different uses and can be created and re-created.”
“I just loved the space,” says Danes. “It’s great to have a wall full of windows. It’s rare for a loft to have so much light.” The loft also came with its own inherent character, provided by the six glorious wood columns that march down the length of the space. Not to mention a main wall composed of six individual French doors that look out onto the courtyard below. “It’s a little more raw than many places in the heart of SoHo,” admits Krevlin.
When it came to making the large space homey, Danes says, “I wanted to make sure there were individual coves.” Toward that end, Krevlin decided to create a collection of eight intimate areas within the larger one. In lieu of accomplishing her mission with walls and color, she chose to go with light and materials. Except for the bedrooms, which are enclosed, all the “rooms” are defined either texturally or through light, with sliding panels of honeycomb Lumasite that the light filters through or drifts over. “Actually, we stole that from the dressing rooms in the Helmut Lang store in SoHo,” Danes says with a laugh. “The idea,” says Krevlin, “was to screen—more than separate—spaces.” “My bedroom is very important to me,” Danes explains. “I do a lot of thinking and living there, so I wanted it to feel really secure and separate from the rest of the space, which is decidedly public.”
As for the furnishings, “Claire wanted to maintain the industrial quality, using something softer and more romantic to offset the coldness,” Krevlin says. “She wanted openness but also somewhere she could cozy into. This is not a big party space—she wanted to inhabit it.”
“My parents, both artists—and pretty goofy actually—were really resourceful in building our home,” Danes says. “My dad used to collect signs from the fifties, and my mom used to go grab people’s garbage and use it as furniture—crates for shelves, for instance. I wanted to adopt that sensibility. I didn’t want to use traditional pieces, so the staple was a lot of fifties French-style furniture.” Danes’s aesthetic “made us a good match,” says Krevlin. “I ’m a modernist, but I believe in ‘livable modern,’ where spaces feel warm.”
“I love textures,” Danes admits. “The more a piece of furniture looks like an animal, the better.” And, she adds, “I like mobile furniture.”
Which you notice the minute you step off the elevator into the entrance hall and confront an apparently station ary Lumasite panel. However, with a mere flick of the wrist and elbow, it slides to the left to do double duty as the door to Danes’s study. Snaking through the middle of the loft, another line of translucent paneling separates the kitchen from a breakfast nook. The table is angular, and with a catch: It rolls. Set on a caster, it can be spun around into the kitchen to provide extra working space, then rolled back to fit snugly into the curve of the screen.
The living area, meanwhile, is separated from the dining area by four and a half feet of cabinetry housing a dream of high-tech everything—including, of course, the requisite big-screen TV to single out the living area’s adjacent limestone fireplace, Krevlin again chose a textural marker. “Originally, we had concrete in the entrance hall, in the powder room and in front of the fire place,” she says. “But Claire wanted to be able to snuggle up by the fireplace, which precluded having a cold floor. So we switched to brown leather tiles, which are very warm. This is an interesting example of Claire’s perceptiveness: She knew she didn’t like the concrete floor and was able to articulate why. Instinctively she realized that the intimacy of a fireplace needed some thing softer surrounding it.” Adding warmth as well as anchoring the pale space are the dark-stained oak floors throughout the loft.
For the dining area, the two commis sioned a maple table “that reminded me of a small, elegant boat,” says Danes. “But what kind of chairs do you put around it?” asks Krevlin. “Chairs can be so formal that you can’t imagine all these kids sitting around on them eating Chinese food. So we went with ten adorable molded Eames chairs, which have a lot of style but are also durable and kick-around.”
In selecting the art, Danes kept it in the family. Over the bed in the master suite (highlighted by a truly enviable walk-in closet), she pinned to the wall a splatter painting titled Bathroom Biology that was done by her mother, Carla Danes, a 1968 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. A second maternal work, again a splatter painting, enigmatically titled Germs on My Couch, greets you as you step off the elevator into the entrance hall.
Hanging in the living room, in the midst of such modernity, however, a more classic painting holds sway: a portrait of a clear-faced beauty dressed as if she had just stepped out of the court of Mary, Queen of Scots. This is Claire Danes, the mother of Danes’s father, who died when he was ten, staring out with slightly repressed humor at the Gen X world of the precocious grand daughter who has made their name an international household word.
Source: ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST